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By JOHN LEE McLAUGHLIN
Daily News Staff Writer
At remote Whale Pass, Crystal Toman has tamed the wicked devil's club into silky soap and salve.
Joan Kovatch, aboard her vessel Grace, off the coast of Ketchikan, has crafted pulp, beer box and leather scrap into writing companions, supplementing her professional henna skills.
And for a Blueberry Arts Festival staple, the Crepes Bluzette crew will return yet again to keep the masses bursting with berried pastry.
It's a mere sampling, really, as an unprecedented roster of more than 150 artists and vendors is expected to amass this year for the now 42-year-old First City festival organized by the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council.
And for the first time, according to KAAHC Program Director Marni Rickelmann, the Aug. 5 array of booths will spill into Main Street.
“Our numbers, usually, we're almost completely full — maybe there are two or three extra booths that we could have filled — but this year,” Rickelmann said, “we were completely full by early July.”
As of Thursday, some 155 artists and vendors signed up for the festival. Their respective booths will open at 10 a.m. on Aug. 5, peppered about the state parking garage at Grant and Main streets, the nearby First United Methodist Church parking lot and the city lot at Grant and Main.
Returning this year, the Whale Pass soapmaker Toman said her Alaska Mist Soaps, a home-based business ready to expand into its own space, focuses on Alaska tourism.
And the Blueberry Arts Festival and others like Coffman Cove's upcoming By the Sea festival, she said, deliver in a big way for her cold-process, vegan, environmentally friendly, petroleum-free soap bars made with Alaska rainwater. She sees a residual upshot in her etsy.com sales, to boot.
“Here on (Prince of Wales Island), I have quite a few followers who make sure that they buy my soap, and then we also sell wholesale throughout Alaska,” Toman said over the phone this past Tuesday from her soap-packed home. “We have sold some wholesale down south, not a whole lot, because I am really geared toward Alaska tourism, and then we also have Etsy online sales.”
The Blueberry Arts Festival and By the Sea, “those two are my biggest money-makers, if you want to call it that,” she said, noting that she will be packing to Ketchikan about 10 bars of each of her 30 soap fragrances and names.
“We also have sugar scrubs and body butters (and) lotion sticks,” Toman said of her eclectic offerings. “We have devil's club products, as well, and those do very, very well. Devil's club is probably the biggest seller on Etsy. It is. I am so surprised.”
“Most businesses that I have seen put a different fragrance oil in there,” she said. “They either put lemon grass or another essential oil in it, and we don't. We choose to stay with 100 percent devil's club. We harvest it ourselves, and go from start to finish. ... It's not a very nice plant.”
Down the line of booths, festivalgoers can chat with resident biker chicks, drop in on the Ketchikan School District or parse the late state budget with Rep. Dan Ortiz. With everything from Italian sodas and Hawaiian ribs to medieval jousting and about every type of local, handmade curios and eats a tourist could dream, the booths are a sundry bunch.
And it's been a major to-do for Ketchikan newcomer Kovatch, her life partner, Jon Schleiff, and their Feral Forest Henna & Catamount Provisions. The kind couple came to Ketchikan less than two months ago from off-grid homesteading on the Kuskokwim River in the northern Alaska bush. They now call home their 28-foot sailboat Grace at Bar Harbor.
“We both make all different kinds of things,” she said. “And I knew I'd have get in on the Blueberry Arts Festival as soon as possible.”
Kovatch follows suit with the general theme of festival variety. She has upcycled pulped paper, avocado trays, denim, and craft-beer boxes and ice cream pints into handbound journals and notepads. Then there's the felted bowls, handmade jewelery and fire-starting kits.
“Anything I can pull from the surrounding bioregion and turn into something useful and/or beautiful, is what we do,” she said.
Sign-ups for bush-crafting lessons (they plan to offer the lessons throughout Southeast, via sailboat), as well as lessons on book-binding, felting and more will also be on the table.
“We're going to have a list there on the table of the classes that we can teach,” Schleiff said. “And we started connecting with folks, you know, with the youth groups that are in town, the Boy Scout groups, schools” to begin sharing their varied skills with the community.
Yet there's more. Kovatch also will be offering free-hand henna design, a sort of temporary tattoo of natural plant dye that lasts one to two weeks. It's best described by one's own eyes.
“A lot people who know they want tattoos, but they're not sure where they want to get them or what they want done yet, use henna to experiment, and then it's also fun if you change your mind a lot,” she said. “It's like magical jewelery on your skin.”